We Can Work It Out
When I awoke from my nap after Fr. Philip had heard my confession, absolved me, and given me Communion, I was groggy but somehow feeling curiously blessed.
I couldn’t help feeling hopeful.
The room was silent. No blaring television. I was hungry. Maybe it’d be meat loaf, or St. Clare’s great chicken pot pie, or spaghetti with meat balls, or…
“Time for your prune bomb,” said nurse Pimple Nell cheerfully.
That was it?
Trepidatiously I watched as she opened a chilled bottle of Sunsweet prune juice, probably the only form of juice life that I wholly loathed.
My mom’s mom, granny Franny as my dad called her, used to drink a glass every morning, and once when she was staying with us at Christmas time when I was about eight, I sneaked a taste.
Horrible and horribler. It was nowhere as tasty as her Mogen David Concord grape wine which I wasn’t supposed to touch so I nipped a sip every now and again.
No. Prune juice tasted like a raisin that hadn’t gone to confession or communion for fifty years and had died in a state of really vile mortal sin and gone to hell.
Humming tunelessly, dear Nurse Nelly emptied far too much of the pee jay into a big opaque white plastic cup. To that, she added an eight-ounce bottle of medicine that looked like sick milk. She stirred it with a plastic spoon that she promptly threw into the wastebasket.
“Drink up,” she said, handing it to me. “Every drop. I’ll be back in a half an hour, or sooner if you need me. Just press the call button.”
The she left, still humming.
I sipped it cautiously.
“Jesus,” I said, but not devoutly.
I took another taste.
“Mary, Joseph, St. Stephen, and St. Michael the archangel,” I swore.
Sipping it an eighth of an ounce at a time through gritted teeth, trying not to gag, I evoked the twelve apostles, the nine choirs of angels, and every saint whose name I could remember, including granny Franny.
After ten minutes, I still had half of that diabolical cup to go.
So I said, “Cheers, Gandalf” and chugged the rest.
My eyes watered. My breathing ceased for a second. I fought the urge to hurl it back up. I succeeded. Barely.
So, speaking of Gandalf, I picked up The Fellowship of the Ring. I’d dog-eared it at the start of the third chapter, “Three’s Company.” But then I had to remember what’d happened before, and then I got to thinking of the three guys I was missing—Drummer, Croe, and Bird— and that made me think of the two cops who, Bad & Badder, BERNARD and WOLFF, and that made realize I knew why I’d recognized Badder, and then…
Hello! I buzzed the call button for Miss Scarlet the nurse. Then I hit the button again. And again.
She bustled in.
“Hold your horses,” she said sharply.
“That’s not what I’m worried about holding,” I replied.
It must’ve been the urgency in my voice. She promptly bustled into the toilet and seated me on the royal throne.
Good King Poopeslaus looked down on his feets uneven.
She was back within a minute and knocked at the door.
“I’m moving your neighbor to another ward,” she said. “Do you want your book?”
You bet I did.
“Yes,” I said. “Thanks.”
Time passes quickly when you’re having fun.
I wasn’t so it didn’t.
Thank God for the hobbits.
Over the laborious 45 minutes that I sat being slowly but successfully prune-bombed, I finished “Three’s Company.”
That chapter gave me a new nickname for officer WOLFF: The Black Rider, Except he wore beige and brown, and I could see his face, and what big eyes he had.
I was well into “A Short Cut To Mushrooms” when at last, total success had been achieved.
I pulled the call cord.
“Oh, my goodness,” nurse Nell said. “You were constipated.”
“I know,” I said. “Thanks for giving me my book.”
She helped me back to my bed.
“Can I have some supper now?” I said plaintively. “Please? Could I have some bacon, like maybe ten or twelve strips? And some grilled mushrooms, if you’ve got them?’
“This is a hospital you’re in, not Tony’s Roman Villa,” she said, a bit sharp with me for the first time. I realized she’d probably had a hard day going into a hard day’s night, what with moving Wheezenstein and his whining wheezers elsewhere. “You have dry toast, ice water or apple juice, and beef broth or chicken broth,”
I humbly opted for the beef and apple and maybe three slices of dry toast, wheat if they had it.
She softened a bit.
“I can only give you white toast, two slices. If you want more broth or some ice water after you’ve finished what I bring you, I might be able to do that. Sorry. Doctor’s orders.”
“Thank you,” I said. “You’ve been great taking care of me. Tell the doctor I said so.”
She beamed at me, her pimples ruddy as rare roast beef.
“You’re welcome,” she said. “Considering all you’ve been through, you’re a very patient patient.”
“I’ll be right back with your broth,” she said.
The broth was great. It tasted like it had brewed from steak bones. The apple juice reminded me of Von Stihl’s Door County apple wine. That made me wonder how long I’d been here, lonely and wineless.
I rang for her.
“Please,” I said, “can I have another bowl of this broth and another thing of opple juice”—pronouncing it the Upper Peninsula way–“pretty please?”
“You got it,” she said, but before she could leave, I asked her one question too many:
“How long have I been in here?”
She grimaced gravely.
“I’m not supposed to talk to you about that. Ask the doctor about that tomorrow.”
And she left me wondering.